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Ecumenical News International
Daily News Service
25 February 2000


New church yearbook reflects changing face of multifaith
America
ENI-00-0067

By Cheryl Heckler-Feltz
New York, 25 February (ENI)--The latest edition of North
America's most respected church handbook has made a radical
change in its scope - by listing, for the first time, details of
major non-Christian faiths.

Throughout its 68-year history, the yearbook has overflowed with
statistical data about membership trends, as well as contact
information for every Christian denomination in the US. The
408-page 2000 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches lists
Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish and other non-Christian groups for the
first time. Sophisticated website search engines have also been
established in conjunction with the yearbook for the use of
serious researchers.

"At the close of what has broadly been known as the 'Christian
century', we felt it was important for the Yearbook to step back
and look at the broader religious landscape of the United
States," Dr. Eileen W. Lindner, the book's editor, states in her
introduction. She said a serious gap appeared in Christianity's
relationship to other religions in America and that pluralism
became a natural theme for the first yearbook of the new century
and millennium.

The new yearbook includes:
? a directory of eight non-Christian religions - Baha'ism,
Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Native American
traditional spirituality and Sikhism. Also included are summaries
of the history and beliefs of each religion, along with national
and regional offices, contacts and website addresses;
? an "Index of Select Programs for US Regional and Local
Ecumenical Bodies" which lists agencies focusing on interchurch
and interfaith issues.
? an article by Dr Diana L. Eck, professor of Comparative
Religion and Indian Studies at Harvard University on "Religious
Pluralism: America in the Year 2000".

In her article, Dr Eck said that when the US changed its
immigration policy in 1965, significant numbers of Muslims,
Jains, Hindus and Buddhists began settling here.

"In the last three decades all of us have become increasingly
aware of our new cultural and racial diversity, but many of us
are still unaware of the religious diversity that has come with
the new immigration," she said. "We are surprised to find that
there are more than twice as many Muslim Americans today as
Episcopalians, that there are more Muslims than members of the
Presbyterian Church (USA) and about as many Muslims as Jews -
about five or six million in all."

Dr Eck mentioned bombings, attacks and vandalism to mosques and
temples throughout the US as evidence of religious intolerance.

"Can a turbaned Sikh work on a hard-hat job or wear his turban
in the US Army?" she asked, pointing to challenges to American
society as its faith base widens. "Can a Sikh high school student
carry the symbolic dagger of Sikh religious initiation to school?
Will the Whirlpool Corporation in Nashville find a way for Muslim
employees to meet their obligations of prayer?"

The 2000 Yearbook also features extensive, traditional data such
as the changes in church memberships, seminary enrolment and
congregational finances.

The order of the five biggest Christian denominations remains
unchanged since the 1999 yearbook:
? Roman Catholic (62 million, a 1.3 per cent increase);
? Southern Baptist (15.7 million, a loss of 1.03 per cent);
? United Methodist (8.4 million, a loss of .45 per cent);
? Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (5.2 million, a loss of
0.13 per cent);
? Mormon (4.9 million, no change).

For the first time, the biggest Protestant denomination and one
of the more conservative, the Southern Baptist Convention,
reported a decrease rather than an increase in membership,
despite an overall trend for the last two decades showing steady
growth for conservative denominations while progressive
denominations have declined in numbers.

Commenting on the SBC figures, Dr Philip Barlow, religion
professor at Hanover College in Indiana, told ENI that he
believed the decline was due to a sharp rift in the denomination
between moderate and conservative Baptists.

The Assemblies of God grew 1.25 per cent in the last year,
moving from the 14th-biggest denomination in 1999 to the
11th-biggest in 2000. Dr Barlow said this was consistent with a
20-year trend showing prominent growth in Pentecostal
denominations in the US.

According to the 2000 Yearbook, women in US and Canadian
seminaries now comprise a record 34 per cent of the enrolment.
Nearly a third of all seminarians are African-American, Latino,
Pacific/Asian or from other minority ethnic groups.

The 2000 Yearbook was prepared by the National Council of
Churches and published by Abingdon Press.